An anonymous commenter on a recent post made the observation that I am “anti-union.” I can easily see how someone could reach that conclusion. I have not held back on attacking the food workers union for their relentless attempts to keep non union grocers such as Harris Teeter and Wegmans out of Howard County.
Still, that comment got me thinking about how my view of unions has been shaped by personal experience.
My first real awareness of unions came from my grandfather who worked in the shoe factories for the Endicott Johnson Corporation in Johnson City, New York. This was hard work for low pay in dark factories that typically provided fertile ground for union organizing yet, in my grandfathers time at least, the cordwainers union never gained a foothold at Endicott Johnson. The reason was that the employer believed that the best way to discourage unionizing was to take care of the employees in the first place. Endicott Johnsons employee benefits were considered “generous and innovative” for their time and included profit sharing and employer provided health care.
During the summers of my college years I frequently picked up part time work with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Though I wasn’t a full fledged union member I still had union dues deducted from my paycheck. I didn’t complain. The hourly wage was three times more than my steady summer job and I got to work a spot light for the rock shows. The truth is I would have happily performed this job for half of the money they paid me.
Ten years ago I worked on a development project in the Troy Hill Commerce Center in Elkridge that was financed by a fund controlled by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The stipulation that we use union labor for everything including phone and data cabling put us at a competitive disadvantage in attracting tenants. Our cost for building out a tenant’s space was always considerably higher than most other buildings in the market that we competed against.
The bottom line is that I don’t consider myself to fanatically anti union but I wouldn’t say I’m exactly pro union either. I do believe that unions have played a critical role in improving conditions for the American worker but many times in recent history their rules and tactics have run counter to what I believe to be in the best interest of the public at large.
No doubt some will disagree so fire away.